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Slain McKeesport man's family urges end to killing

| Monday, July 8, 2013, 10:05 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
The Rev. Earl Jones leads a prayer to end violence in McKeesport at a memorial service for his nephew Andre Sims in July.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Wanda Sims comforts her granddaughter Mariah Mack, 10, during a Saturday memorial service for her son Andre Sims, who was shot one year earlier on July 6, 2012.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Billy DeCicco of McKeesport lights a paper lantern that was released into the air along Versailles Avenue during a memorial for his cousin Andre Sims who was shot at Versailles and Pirl Street on July 6, 2012.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Before a Saturday memorial service, Anthony Miller of Pittsburgh places luminaria bags along Versailles Avenue in memory of his cousin Andre Sims with help from Sims' niece Jazmyne Mack, 8, of McKeesport.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Wanda Sims holds a candle while standing with her daughter Claudia Sims and grandson Cedric Mack, 5, during a Saturday memorial service at the intersection of Versailles Avenue and Pirl Street, where her son Andre Sims, who was shot a year earlier.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Vince Brown of McKeesport opens his vest to show a T-shirt designed in memory of his friend Andre Sims, who was shot on July 6, 2012, and died on July 11.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Claudia Sims of McKeesport carries heart-shaped ballons to a makeshift memorial at the intersection where her brother Andre Sims was shot on July 6, 2012. He died five days later.

More than 100 friends and family gathered along Versailles Avenue in McKeesport to remember James Andre Sims. But when his uncle the Rev. Earl Jones asked for loved ones to share their thoughts about the 20-year-old's shooting death, the crowd fell silent.

Sims' mother Wanda Sims feels the weight of that silence when she remembers the night her son was mortally wounded.

Andre Sims was shot several times, including once in the head, on July 6, 2012, while sitting in his black Dodge Charger at the intersection of Pirl Street and Versailles. He died five days later when family removed him from life support.

Wanda Sims remembers her son as a hard worker who held down jobs at Taco Bell and at Alorica's West Mifflin call center — where his mother also worked — to support his new family.

“His baby Josiah was born 18 days after I took Andre off life support,” Wanda Sims said. “It will be a year (since his death) on July 11, but I believe that when they shot my baby (on July 6), they killed him.”

She said she has been in contact with McKeesport and Allegheny County police, who have told her there is not enough evidence to implicate a suspect in the shooting.

Pointing to her son's Dodge, which was parked at Versailles and Pirl for Saturday's vigil, she recalled the circumstances of the hot, humid summer night a year ago.

“All he was doing was sitting in the car,” she said. “He had all the windows down. He was off (from work) and just wanted to hang out with his friends. He stopped. I don't know who said something to him, but they walked up to his car and shot my baby boy.”

To this day, she said she does not know if her son was alone, or if he knew his killer.

“I'm from McKeesport, born and raised,” she said. “If someone is from McKeesport, nine times out of 10, I know them.”

“And this doesn't matter,” she said, indicating her fair complexion and the crowd, which included blacks, whites and Hispanics. Her children are biracial.

“Somebody knows something, and they need to come forward,” Wanda Sims said. “If it was their (son), they would want me to say something. And I would.”

Jones, of Rainbow Temple Assembly of God, prayed a blessing and encouraged those gathered to find strength in their loss.

Jones said people don't realize that a family or a whole community can be destroyed by death — not by grief alone, but when other natural emotions get the best of people's spirit.

“We are truly divided over these things,” he said. “People are killing each other in a place as little as McKeesport. Families are falling apart because we have hatred. I don't blame you, because it's human nature.”

Jones said It might be hard for the grieving to take his advice, because he is not the one who lost a child. But everyone has experienced something they did not believe was forgivable.

“When you gather together and you walk through these streets or you go to school, you're looking at people who you may think could have done it,” Jones said. “You've got to let some things go. It's not going to be easy, but you can be free.”

Jones said it is impossible to bring Andre Sims back, but it is possible to be with him in spirit and respect.

“You never should forget this,” Jones said. “But find a way to forgive. You have other little ones out here growing up. It isn't over.”

Jones said holding on to grudges and feuds is emotionally draining.

“Jesus said it himself, when he was hanging on the cross,” Jones said. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

That statement echoed throughout the crowd as the phrase was repeated in prayer. Jones asked everyone to join hands and realize that each is no more important than the person next to him or her.

“Every life means something to someone else,” Jones said. “I know Wanda. I know the whole family. Andre is God's child. He belongs to God.”

Attendees released balloons and paper lanterns into the sky above Versailles Avenue, and Claudia Sims told the crowd that she appreciates so many showing their respects for her brother.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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